EDITORIAL: Cherokee needs a downtown parking garage…yesterday! 

by Feb 26, 2021OPINIONS




Downtown Cherokee needs a parking garage to serve both the business district (aka downtown) and the cultural district, and it needs it now…actually yesterday.  Driving through downtown Cherokee during the spring, summer, and early fall months can be challenging with on-street parking and the lack of sidewalks.  

Build a parking garage in Cherokee.  Get rid of all of the on-street parking in downtown Cherokee, and build sidewalks in the place of the parking spaces.  That would make downtown Cherokee safer, and much, much more accessible to visitors and community members.  

The perfect place for this parking garage is the parcel known as the old Cherokee Elementary School.  It is easily within walking distance of downtown.  We would even suggest building a sky bridge from the garage to the beginning area of the new sidewalks starting at the end of the downtown area near the Cherokee Harley-Davidson store.  

Safety should be of paramount concern for visitors to any town, and right now pedestrians are not truly safe in downtown Cherokee.  The lack of sidewalks makes it a treacherous endeavor to say the least.  It is not uncommon to be driving through the area during high tourist season and have people walk out into the road from behind parked cars.  It is common knowledge that downtown roadway drivers look at the speed limit as a suggestion, sometimes driving dangerously above safe speeds.  Let’s not even address the problem with extended-cab trucks or longer vehicles that many times stick out in the road.  

You don’t have to look far for a perfect example of how this type of downtown parking system works.  This is how the Town of Gatlinburg, Tenn. has it set up, and it works well.  On a larger scale, you can turn to Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla. which has a large parking garage.  Patrons park there, walk safely across a sky bridge (where the idea came from for the one referenced above) that goes over the highway, and end up at City Walk which is an area adjacent to the park itself that has numerous restaurants and stores.  

With a system like this in Cherokee, it would make pedestrian travel much more safe and much more frequent.  People frequently comment and just simply observe that while neighboring towns such as Gatlinburg and Maggie Valley have visitors at night, Cherokee seems to close around dinnertime and is sort of a ghost town.  

Having a parking garage could be the stimulus that downtown is looking for and is needing.  There’s no reason why Cherokee couldn’t be just as vibrant as Gatlinburg.  

This could also connect downtown to the cultural district (i.e. Museum of the Cherokee Indian and Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, Inc.) with the addition of sidewalks that truly extend all the way down.  It is close now, but with just a little bit of work, it could really connect both parts of town.  

A parking garage built and funded by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians tribal government would be an investment in the future of the Tribe and its tourist industry.  One good thing about a parking garage is that you can charge people to use it and it is a cost that they would expect.  Free parking doesn’t really exist in America outside of the game, Monopoly.  It would take awhile, obviously, for parking fees to pay for a multi-floor garage, but in the meantime having it would boost tourism so much that tribal levy payments would increase.  It’s a win-win all the way around.